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PWR 1CK: Investigating the News: Journalism, Technology, and the Future

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For more than a century it has been relatively easy to read the newspaper. Daily newspapers were inexpensive and widely available. With a few coins, you could buy one on at a neighborhood store or from a corner box. Newspapers kept citizens informed about political debates, covered global conflicts, and exposed corruption through investigative journalism. The daily newspaper also supported communities: people turned to a newspaper if they wanted to get a job, buy a house, rent an apartment, clip coupons, follow campaign coverage, find out what the city council was up to, or know whether their team won or lost. In the last few years, this has all changed. Craigslist has better and free classifieds. has more jobs. We turn to our mobile phones for sports scores or stock quotes. So, why does anybody still read the newspaper? Why might it matter if print newspapers die?

In this course, we will consider the debates about how newspapers matter in our daily lives, shape our communities, encourage public accountability, and respond to technological change. Through your own research, you’ll contribute to ongoing discussions and debates: What future is there for the print newspaper? How can newspapers make the transition to a digital future? Do newspapers still serve a purpose?

Journalists, academics, bloggers, and technology experts of all kinds have weighed in on the ‘death of the newspaper.’ Their arguments will provide material and topics for your research. In class, we will examine Dave Egger’s San Francisco Panorama as an argument for future of the printed newspaper; we will read Paul Starr’s scholarly analysis of the ‘unbundling’ of the newspaper industry by online media and the looming death of investigative journalism; and we will read blogger, science fiction writer and technology pundit Cory Doctorow’s argument that digital newspaper paywalls will fail economically and are bad for the public sphere.

Major Assignments

Rhetorical Analysis

(1500-1800 words; 5-6 pages) This essay asks you to 'read' a very specific newspaper, the San Francisco Panorama. Specifically, you will choose an article (and accompanying images) from the newspaper. You will analyze the rhetorical strategies of the article in the context of the newspaper genre, journalistic expectations and the ongoing debate about the future of printed newspapers.

Texts in Conversation Essay

(1800-2400 words; 6-8 pages) This assignment provides you the opportunity to explore different perspectives on the topic of your research project. You will choose a topic related to the fate of newspapers and journalism. You will enter into this conversation by pursuing a variety of public, professional and scholarly perspectives. Your essay will identify and examine key sources in the ongoing conversation over this topic.

Research-Based Argument

(3600-4500 words; 12-15 pages) For this assignment, you will produce work from sources to write a thoughtful, persuasive, argument-based essay. Previous research topics have included: the role of citizens as journalists; the use of digital paywalls by newspapers; the emergence of non-profit internet-based news organizations; the environmental sustainability of print and digital newspapers; the role of social media in distributing the news; and the difficulty in assessing the credibility and authority of digital news sources.